The reason our February 2016 turned out to be magical was twofold.
Yes, we were able to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
But ALSO, we were able to spend some quality time with Ama!
The kids, of course, had a wonderful week with her while we were gone. Riding horses, (a quick Ellie FAVORITE), swimming at a hotel pool down the road (one of the only outdoor pools in Valdivia, and Donna was familiar with it as we had all stayed there when we first moved here), running around to swimming and tennis classes, and overall, enjoying each other’s company.
Ama has always been, and continues to be, a whiz at thinking of creatively fun activities with the kids. Coupled with the enviable stamina to not only keep up with three, spirited children and their busy schedule, but to keep those children consistently entertained, was nothing short of awesome.
We knew that while we were gone, she and the kids would be restricted geographically speaking. And so while Tom and I were here, we wanted to make sure that the remainder of her trip was as much of a vacation as possible, and share with her all of our favorite, local treasures.
First, we explored the coast near our house. Beginning with an “off-the-grid” beach in Curinaco. The kids collected purple seashells, looks for marine life, and Greyson, with his laser-beam eyes, actually discovered, (and with Tom’s help – captured), a giant crab under a rock.
From there, we drove about a mile down to another long, and surprisingly deserted, beach. There, we lounged, chatted, and deep-blue ocean gazed while the kids made sandcastles adorned with even more shells.
It hasn’t ceased to amaze me, even in nearly 3 years now, the beauty of the beaches in our neck of the woods, and their ability to remain relatively obscure. Even, primitive.
We introduced Ama to the Costumbrista, an indoor/outdoor food and artisanal market in Niebla. There, the aroma of grilled meats hangs heavily the air, and Chicha, a locally made fermented apple drink, is displayed in old wine bottles and sold by the crateful.
Fun Fact: Chicha is a Chilean favorite, dating back to the indigenous tribes. Made fermented or not, with apples, corn, or another variety of fruits, it’s a hot commodity, particularly during the Spring and Summer, and most especially during Dieciocho celebrations. (Tom loves it, and picks up a bottle every time we drive through),
The kids also found some adorable ceramic, piggy banks, and the girls had their hair braided.
Another day, we managed to hop a car-ferry to another hidden gem – Chaihuin, which sets between the Pacific coast and the Alerce Costero National Park. Alerce is another name for the Fitzroya Tree, an important member of the Valdivian Temperate Rain Forests and can be found in abundance in the Park. (They are also known as the Patagonian Cypress).
Fun Fact: The Alerce is the largest species of tree in all of South America. The largest one in the world is called the Alerce Milenario (also, el Gran Abuelo), and at 3,635 years old, it is the second oldest tree for any living species. It can be found in this park, but unfortunately was a couple hours away so we didn’t make it there.
Two of the goals of the National Park are to protect the Chaihuin River Basin and the Valdivian Temperate Rainforests, unique in nature with only a similar type of forest found in New Zealand.
With Ama, we took a short hike through the ancient forest to a beach made entirely of large, white round rocks. (The kids think they look like dinosaur eggs). We sat on the rocks, relaxing as we watched large, frothy waves smash against the rocks and the heavily populated sea lion colony, (La Loberia), stationed on a jagged, black rock base roughly 50 yards from shore, swim and play and bark at each other while pelicans fluttered around them.
I recall Ama saying that if someone needed to get away to relax, to clear their head, that that was just the place to do it.
I couldn’t agree more! The sea air, the unpopulated and incomparably beautiful beaches that Chile keeps hidden at the end of dirt roads, set a perfect stage for tranquility.
We finished that afternoon at a nearby dune beach, swimming, building sandcastles, chasing tiny crabs, and kayaking.
On a weekday, the kids and I buzzed her a couple hours south to another Chilean “must-see” city, Puerto Varas. Nicknamed the “City of the Roses”, like Valdivia, it is replete with Germanic-architecture and history throughout. It is a jaw-dropping resort-local that sits right on the beautiful Lake Llanquihue and faces the majestic Volcanoes Osorno and Calbuco, towering on the other side.
Fun Fact: Calbuco experienced a massive eruption that had made international news almost exactly a year prior. (See Old Blog Post). Osorno is one of the most active Volcanoes in South America, with 11 historical eruptions between the 1500’s and 1800’s. It is also known worldwide as a symbol of the region, and is frequently compared in appearance to Mount Fuji.
SUPER disappointedly, we had zero visibility and couldn’t even catch even a glimpse of the infamous volcanoes. However, we were still able to enjoy a nice stroll along the lake, the kids jumped on trampolines set up along the beach, we got a little shopping done, and had lunch at an adorable café.
We also managed to sneak in some artistic retreats for Ama at our “Chilean Summer Camp” (-;
She and Maddie enrolled in a Mural de Telar course, in which they were each able to make THE traditional wall hanging that is so symbolic of Chile.
All three of us also attended an Atrapa de Suenos (dreamcatchers) class with a lovely local woman, Francisca Cea. She and her husband prepared a delicious “Once” (Once is a German tradition that has been adopted in Chile, and typically consists of bread and tea around the 5 p.m. hour).
Francisca and her husband served and dined with us on homemade bread, tea, coffee, jams, cookies (that Maddie helped make, as she completed her Dreamcatcher well before we did!), and an avocado spread.
Fun Fact: This is another one of my favorite Chilean-isms. No one is in a rush to push you out the door. They want to break bread, spend time, talk, and get to know you. And I actually think the guest has to be the one to say that it is time to go—I think they’d keep you as long as they could! They focus on establishing relationships. That has been an unexpected bonus, and truly lovely.
Also, I need to make mention that while we were gone, Ama learned from the pool where Maddie participated in swim lessons that Greyson could enroll in swim classes! (Hallelujah! I had previously misunderstood this! *sigh*)
We were even able to enroll him, and watch him morph into a little fish, with Ama still here. Such a small thing might seem like no big deal, but for us, living SO far away, that is exactly what we miss. Having family present for those milestone moments. Priceless!
And finally, Ama’s last weekend here, we spent the weekend in a cabin (cabana), two hours north, between Pucon and Lago Caburgua. We explored and shopped in Pucon, and Ama even considered hiking the active Volcano Villarrica, but decided against it due to time constraints.
Fun Fact: Villarrica also one of the most active volcanoes in South America, is one of very few volcanoes in the world to have an actual, active lava lake in its crater. And it also erupted the year prior, in March 2015! It has been relatively stable since, although some German tourists hiked it about a month after Ama departed, and a “small bit” (not really, but relatively speaking) of lava erupted right in front of them! Thankfully, no one was hurt.
In the Pucon area, we also toured an area bathed in beautiful waterfalls named Ojos de Caburgua, swam in Lago Caburgua, and did a little fishing.
Although we had been to that area before, this trip actually marked our first time in Lago Caburgua, and in comparison to the other cold, Andean lakes of Chile, I must admit it was comfortable, shallow, and the kids LOVED it!
BUT AS ALL GOOD THINGS DO, our time with Ama came to an end far more quickly than we would have liked.
Our “Fiesta de 5” enjoying these experiences in Chile, together, has been wonderful, to be sure. But to enjoy them with family and friends?
That adds a whole new element of magic.
Being here, no, correction, LIVING HERE, establishing a life here, for almost three years now, has unquestionably etched Chile into our hearts…into our DNA. It’s a home, with friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, activities, and favorite haunts. We recognize faces on the streets, know where to go for what, know who to call for what…it’s become comfortable.
To have a life so far away from what we have always called home, a life that we have worked so hard to create, can be a little strange when those we love can’t fully understand it.
And so time like we had with Ama, exploring and introducing this life and these people to her, sort of helps set the still damp clay of a life we’ve shaped here. It solidifies it, substantiates it, not just for us, but for her too!
In other words, we appreciate it SO VERY MUCH!!
And had a ball! ❤
We love you, Ama!